At this point the territory is not yet visible to me

Brother in IceBrother in Ice
by Alicia Kopf
translated by Mara Faye Lethem

This is an odd combination of research notes and fictional diary. It appealed to me because the loose theme tying it all together is ice – polar expeditions, polar science, but also ice as a metaphor for human relationships, human behaviour. And I do love me a tale of Arctic or Antarctic exploration.

Alicia Kopf is the artist name of Imma Ávalos Marquès, a Catalonian artist who created a series of works over multiple years called Àrticantàrtic, culminating in this novel. The novel’s narrator/diarist is an artist called Alicia who has been working on a series called Àrticantàrtic. Are the essay-like chapters in this book about Scott, Peary, Amundsen and other early 20th-century explorers the real Kopf’s research notes compiled for her art? Or is that construction fictional, like the brother of the title?

“My brother is a man trapped in ice. He looks at us through it; he is there and he is not there. Or more precisely, there is a fissure inside him that periodically freezes over. When he is present, his outline is more clearly defined; other times he’s submerged for a while.”

In the book, Alicia’s brother M is autistic and as he gets older, Alicia perceives him as being increasingly trapped and isolated, paralysed by an inability to make decisions on his own. She equates his situation to being trapped in ice, frozen and physically separated from the world. But as the book goes on, she also sees other people in her life in this metaphor, including herself.

Notes and mini-essays on topics related to the Arctic and Antarctic are shuffled in with recollections from Alicia’s own life – her work as an artist and as a teacher; her relationships with men, with friends, with family; her work trips and holidays.

“As I wonder about the journey or the plot guiding this narration, I sense that there’s something I must discover, and until I do I won’t be able to finish. There has to be a conquest. At this point the territory is not yet visible to me. If it were, I wouldn’t write. This isn’t a banal voyage, and it’s no safer than the ones undertaken by the explorers: I feel that my life is at stake.”

The result is eclectic, sometimes repetitive, but always interesting. I really felt I got to know Alicia, even if I did get confused sometimes about the order of events. It does certainly feel more like an artist’s construction than a novel, with its mix of photos, sketches and self-exploration. And my favourite modern art is often similarly exploratory of the self.

Germá de gel published 2015 by L’Altra editorial.
This translation published 2018 by And Other Stories.

Source: I subscribe to the publisher.